IOWA CITY — Waterloo Columbus senior Brianne Eighme felt like she was looking into a mirror as she battled Dubuque Wahlert’s Carolyn Conlon through the early June heat and humidity with a Class 1A team tennis championship on the line Saturday at the University of Iowa Tennis Center.
The tall and athletic girls who are imposing front row weapons on the volleyball court were content to settle for a series of lengthy rallies as they refused to concede a single point for the better part of three hours.
Encouraged by teammates Olivia Fain and Lauren McManus, Eighme eventually found her way back to the net where she put away key overhead volleys during a match tiebreak that allowed Columbus to put the finishing touches on her school’s fifth consecutive team title.
The Sailors defeated Wahlert, 5-1, to win the 19th championship trophy for a Columbus dynasty that owns more state titles than any other Iowa girls’ sports program.
“That was a very intense match,” Eighme said. “I have never played a girl that was so similar to myself.
“She was a great competitor. It was a long match and we both fought really hard. I’m just glad it turned out with me on top. It was a really great way to end four years.”
This marks the first time the Sailors have won five consecutive titles, and veteran coach Dave Will believes seniors McManus, Karlee Sinnott and Eighme may be his first players to have competed on four championship teams.
The finals victory also marked a rare opportunity for Columbus to avenge a loss. Wahlert defeated a short-handed Sailors’ team missing Fain at the top of its lineup, 5-4, in early April.
“It probably helped us that we lost to Wahlert the first time around because it was a big motivational factor,” Will said. “We knew that we’d have to work today and we did. We out-worked them like Bri in the last match there. ... It is quite amazing really. I don’t think we’ve ever had the seniors win four before. We’ve won four in a row before but not with the same group of kids.”
Columbus has now won its last three state championships by clinching every postseason meet with five singles victories preventing a need for doubles play.
Yet, this win didn’t come easily.
During the Sailors’ 5-1 morning semifinal win over Wavelry-Shell Rock, illness forced senior No. 4 singles player Franny Roche to default after winning her first set. That meant Anna Sinnott moved into the singles lineup for the team final, and Eighme and Karlee Sinnott each played a spot higher in the lineup.
Karlee Sinnott was up to the challenge as she dictated play and avenged a previous loss to Wahlert’s Abby McDonald in convincing fashion, 6-0, 6-2, setting the tone early for her team.
“I just wanted to be able to help my team, especially as a senior, I wanted to hold up my own,” Karlee Sinnott said. “It means everything to me. I think we’ve all put in the time and the work.”
Olivia Fain and Lauren McManus coasted to victories at No. 1 and 2 singles and Taylor Hogan used her athleticism and shot making ability to wear her opponent down during a 6-4, 6-1 win in the No. 3 match.
That set the stage for a pair of marathon battles as Wahlert continued to fight. Anna Freiburger recovered from a second set loss to edge Anna Sinnott at No. 6, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 10-6.
Conlon then fought off a pair of match points and eventually won a second set tiebreak to force Eighme into a 10-point tiebreak with an opportunity to extend the meet to doubles. That’s when Eighme switched up her strategy, working her way up to the net for overhead winners to go up 4-3 and 6-5. Eighme later attacked a short second serve to get to championship point where she forced a Conlon lob that sailed long.
“Earlier in the match I tried going to the net and she had a great lob,” Eighme said. “It would go right over me and I’d end up back at the baseline.
“Right before I started that 10-point tiebreaker, a couple of my teammates came up to me and said just try going to the net. See what happens. I hit one overhead and it ended up getting me the point, and I just kept doing it. So many people came up to me after and said, ‘You should have figured it out earlier,’ but it turned out OK.”
Fain couldn’t have been prouder in the manner in which her teammate closed the meet.
“Lauren and I, we gave her the best advice we could and cheered for her the best we could,” Fain said. “It was nerve-wracking but it was a great way to end the meet.”
Fain and Hogan are among the top returning players for a program that says farewell to a memorable senior class while looking towards varsity newcomers to continue its tradition of success.
“We’re best friends and it’s hard for them to graduate, but I think it’s awesome that they’re starting new chapters,” Fain said. “I hope they come back and watch because hopefully we’ll be back next year.
“Today I was just excited because I knew we had a really good chance to win. For our seniors, I wanted it to be a special day. It was awesome.”
State team tennis
WATERLOO COLUMBUS 5, WAVERLY-SHELL ROCK 1
SINGLES—Olivia Fain (WC) def. Chelsea Poesch, 6-0, 6-1, Lauren McManus (WC) def. Madi Overman, 6-3, 6-2, Taylor Hogan (WC) def. Krissy Weir, 6-1, 6-2, Ashlyn Hughes (WSR) def. Franny Roche, 1-6, 2-0, retired, Karlee Sinnott (WC) def. Hannah Folkerts, 6-1, 6-2, Brianne (WC) def. Olivia Phillips, 6-2, 6-1.
DUBUQUE WAHLERT 5, SHENANDOAH 0
SHENANDOAH 5, WAVELRY-SHELL ROCK 2
SINGLES—Sarah Wood (S) def. Poesch, 7-6 (0), 3-6, 10-7, Nichole Gilbert (S) def. Overman, 7-5, 6-2, Weir (WSR) def. Marilyn Cepeda, 6-2, 6-2, Hughes (WSR) def. Delaney Bopp, 6-2, 6-1, Natalie Gilbert (S) def. Folkerts, 4-6, 6-4, 10-2, Mikayla Adkins (S) def. Phillips, 1-6, 6-2, 10-4.
DOUBLES—Poesch/Phillips (WSR) led Gilbert/Cepeda, 6-3, 4-2, Wood/Natalie Gilbert (S) def. Overmann/Wichman, 6-1, 6-3, Folkerts/Weir (WSR) led Adkins/PakGad Rod-em, 6-3, 4-2.
COLUMBUS 5, WAHLERT 1
SINGLES—Fain (WC) def. Audrey Hinz, 6-2, 6-3, McManus (WC) def. Meghann Long, 6-3, 6-1, Hogan (WC) def. Anna Herrig, 6-4, 6-1, K. Sinnott (WC) def. Abby McDonald, 6-0, 6-2, Eighme (WC) def. Carolyn Conlon, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 10-6, Anna Freiburger (DW) def. Anna Sinnott, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 10-6.